For me, mindfulness comes down to simply noticing throughout the day when my mind has hijacked my attention and thrown it into the thought dungeon, especially when those thoughts produce stress and anxiety. When that happens, I go to “let it go” or “come back to your breathing” or any number of “go-to’s.”

But the one that I find the simplest and most effective is a powerful five letter word…


I can’t think of a situation where telling myself to relax doesn’t work. Wife says something that really angers me…relax. Someone cuts me off in traffic…relax. Mind is racing during a meditation session…relax.

What do I mean by relax? It’s going inside my body and saying the word ‘relax’ in my head; that tells my muscles, my brain, every part of my body, to loosen up and unclench.

Relaxation yields presence

What that does, most important, is bring me into the present moment. You can’t be in a truly relaxed state AND be stuck in your mind thinking involuntary thoughts.

Second, our energy flows better and becomes unstuck when we are in a relaxed state. This helps us reach our highest potential in sports, academics and in just about every job I can think of.

As one of my examples above suggests, interpersonal conflict is an area where going to relax yields invaluable benefits. So many marriages and serious relationships suffer from people going nuclear in the midst of mostly petty arguments.

It’s about the screaming kid

The true basis for a huge chunk of these arguments is that one or both participants is tired from a tough day at work, on edge because their six month old has been crying at the top his lungs for an hour, or some other stress that has NOTHING to do with the supposed topic of the argument at hand.

But if we simply learn to step back and relax inside for just a few moments, we can respond with some measure of reason instead of scooping up a glassful of bile from the swamp of our lower selves and throwing it in the face of our significant other, an act inevitably followed by hours, days, weeks or longer of averted looks and mutual silent treatment.

Again, “going to your breathing,” “stay present” and “be calm” can work in those situations, too, but I find that relaxing gets me where I want to be the quickest and is most effective. I think it works so well because it conjures both a physical and mental response inside.

Michael Singer and relaxing

My favorite spiritual teacher, Michael Singer, places relaxation at the very center of his one and only spiritual technique. He teaches that when some disturbance arises inside us, because of something somebody said or a whole host of other causes, the very first thing he counsels to do is to relax.

Doing so allows us to loosen the energy the disturbance has brought up to the point where we can then let that energy rise up and out of us. Singer calls this relax and release and it is the only technique he teaches.

The takeaway

So what can you do with this? It’s simple. Make a point that the next time someone sets you off, be it your significant other or the driver who just cut you off, go straight to relaxing. It helps if you can close your eyes first, though obviously not if you’re driving.

All you’re asking yourself to do is relax for a short time — five to fifteen seconds should do the trick most of the time. THEN respond to whatever stressful event has just occurred. That small, seemingly insignificant act can save you mountains of agony and inner discord.